World mourns anti-apartheid icon Tutu, ‘warrior for justice’

Tutu coined the term ‘Rainbow Nation’ to describe South Africa when Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president

South Africa on Monday began a week of mourning for revered anti-apartheid campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate passed away on Sunday aged 90, stripping the world of a towering moral figure and the last great protagonist of a heroic South African era.

His funeral will be held on New Year’s Day at St George’s Cathedral in his former Cape Town parish, his foundation said, although ceremonies are likely to be muted because of Covid-19 restrictions.

The widow of South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel, on Monday mourned “the loss of a brother”.

“He masterfully used his position as a cleric to mobilise South Africans, Africans, and the global community against the brutalities and immorality of the apartheid government,” she said.

The bells of St George’s will ring for 10 minutes from noon each day until Friday. The cathedral has asked those who hear the sound to pause in their daily work and think of Tutu.

On Friday, his remains will be placed in the cathedral on the eve of the funeral, although attendance at his farewell will be capped at 100, according to the archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba.

But Makgoba told a press conference: “Only a fraction of those who want to be there can be accommodated in the cathedral. So please don’t get on a bus to Cape Town.”

Tutu’s remains will be cremated and his ashes will stay in the cathedral.

Crackling with humour and warmth, Tutu will be most remembered for fearlessly speaking out against white minority rule, which garnered him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. 

He coined the term “Rainbow Nation” to describe South Africa when Mandela became the country’s first black president in 1994.

Panyaza Lesufi, a senior member of the African National Congress (ANC), which swept aside apartheid and remains in power, said Tutu had acted as a “shield” during protests.

However, Tutu’s fight against injustice continued long after racial segregation ended.

– ‘A truly meaningful life’ –

Barack Obama, the first black US president, hailed Tutu as a “moral compass”.

Anglican leader Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said Tutu “was a great warrior for justice who never stopped fighting”.

Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 and repeatedly underwent treatment.

In his final years, Tutu’s public appearances became rarer. This year, he emerged from hospital in a wheelchair to get a Covid vaccine, waving but not offering comment.

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